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My intent is not to dwell on frontiers past but to establish a
foundation for exploring those constantly springing up all around us.
user ID: weubank
entry: frontierAlthough the Collegiate does not state it in this way, in the mind of many people of my generation, born and raised in the United States during the 1940's and 50's, the term 'frontier' conjures up visions of buckskin clad individuals with flintlock rifles setting out, generally in a westerly direction, to explorer and subdue unknown lands.
Students of that era were schooled in biographies of great adventurers. Schooling was reinforced with images etched on impressionable minds and cast on wide screens (How The West Was Won), in multitudes of television programs (many by Walt Disney), with items of clothing (coonskin caps) and through songs about life on the frontier ('Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier').
A trip to the card catalogue of your nearest public library either physically or virtually will reveal hundreds of references under the entry FRONTIER, with nearly all of them linked to the exploration and settling of the land of North America and thus to the past.
With all that childhood reinforcement, and stories from a Father who spent nearly two years in the Aleutians during World War II, it was no wonder to me, that a party of four Eubanks left Kansas for Alaska and "The Last Frontier" in August of 1968. There was no looking back and no thought of hanging around Emporia an extra two weeks just to walk across a stage at Kansas State Teacher's College to pick up a Masters degree in Education, We were responding to the primal call of the frontier.
Within a day of leaving Emporia, we crossed our first frontier border as we left North Dakota and drove into Saskatchewan, Canada. There is a certain thrill of accomplishment in passing through an international customs check point for the first time in one's life. Actual boarders in life are often difficult to 'see' but they can certainly be felt. Over the next week we pushed on north through land that showed less and less signs of human habitation - margins of settlement - until we crossed another frontier and entered a state of the Union and mind quite different from any such state found in the "Lower 48".
Life on the Alaskan frontier was never dull, it was always physically and mentally stimulating. For the decades between 1968 and 1988 we lived in locations far removed from the rhythms and influences which had driven our lives for the previous ten years. Suddenly there were no more weekly television series, daily newspapers or hourly news broadcasts to do our thinking for us.
It was during this time, while living out childhood concepts of a frontier, that I began to understand some of Webster's other definitions for the word.
Books of all kinds were read during the long winters. Alaska's State Library mailed an assortment of a dozen books each month to any citizen in the 'Bush' that requested them. We named the general category but a clerk guided our informal education by selecting the specific reading material. Seldom was a book returned to Juneau that was unread. Medical relatives sent practical if not highly technical books such as Merck's Manual and at our request, a lengthy book on obstetric nursing for a child was to be delivered in the teacherage of the Belkofski Elementary School in March of 1971. That book was studied with more intensity than any book I ever touched at Emporia. Amy Louise Eubank, delivered in a one teacher school house on the Aleutian Peninsula is now a teacher in her own school near the Arctic Circle. . .
We listened to radio stations "new" to us, stations on short wave, that most citizens of the Heartland know little about. Stations that presented a clear line a of division between different or opposing ideas: Voice of America, Radio Moscow, Armed Forces Radio Network, and the BBC. At times, painful truths were learned from these stations about our government.
Early in the 1970's we saw scores of jumbo jet refueling at a remote, isolated Cold Bay International Airport. They were not military jets nor did they carry familiar civilian markings but Cold Bay was located on a dot of land in the North Pacific that lay on the Great Circle Route to Southeast Asia and Cold Bay was shrouded in fog, hidden from the eyes of a war weary citizenry.
Once while traveling from St. George Island in the Pribilof's across the Bering Sea toward the mainland of Alaska in 1973 in a Cessna, the full meaning of a military frontier was made quite clear, Two American interceptor jets from the King Salmon Air Force Base scrambled on our small plane to get a visual on a "target" coming from the direction of the Soviet Union. After all, we were living on a frontier between two very powerful and not always friendly nations. Who was to know that the Soviets had not developed and launched a new, slow moving, low flying ICBM? Only a visual ID could make sense of a radar blip that might be World War III approaching across that gray sea where no small plane should have been flying.
In that vast land we learned to listen to people and talk with them rather than past them. Seismologists and volcanologist from Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Columbia University came into the area to study seismic activity brought on by the subduction of tectonic plates and to set up a seismic network that might also detect atomic tests in other countries. Marine biologists searched for answers to the mysteries of harvest cycles for gray cod and Alaskan king crab. Naturalists studied the feasibility of establishing the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in the Shumagin Islands. We hosted, assisted and were entertained by scientific minds that were exploring the furthermost limits of knowledge in their particular fields of study.
The game of Village Politics was and still is the primary entertainment for everyone in such circumstances. In each village political rivalry has a history that stretches back into the dim past, a vitality in the presence and an unknown but certain future. Public meetings of all kinds were the movie theater, television and VCR of frontier life all rolled into one. Every adult was an actor and each meeting was a production of theater in the round. Every encounter whether casual or formal, accidental or planned was an opportunity for a masterful performance. We acted our prepared or impromptu scripts in committees, on boards and through councils.
The political status of those areas changed several times over that score of years. Every individual over 18 was a force and a ballot to be counted, none could be taken for granted where a single vote might carry the same weight as 1,000s in a lower "48" community election (turn out at most local contests was almost 100%). Small communities moved up the ladder from 3rd class city, to 2nd class city, to 1st class city and then banded together to carve a county (borough) government out of the 'unorganized" Aleutian Peninsula area. The struggle often centered around the delivery structure for education.
Now all of these communities were painfully small compared to even a tiny town in Kansas or Missouri. In 1988 there were less than 2,000 permanent, long term residents scattered over 7,000 square miles of rugged land area in what was to become the new Aleutians East Borough that year. They lived along a twenty mile by three hundred mile corridor (roughly the distance from Kansas City to St. Louis.) The human mind is inventive, and in order to more fully populate and staff that vast region, each individual accumulated many different 'hats' to wear. In every encounter there was a silent reckoning; Mr. S. Kuzakin, >male > parent of five students > husband of janitoress > village council leader >fisherman >native > health board member > etc.; or: William Eubank > male > teacher > employer > City Clerk /Treasurer > hunting partner > nonnative, etc. Understanding the multifarious nature of individuals was essential to getting along in the community.
During those twenty years, my youthful concept of a frontier matured to include all of Webster's definitions - border - margin of settled or developed territory - limits of knowledge - line of division between different or opposed things - and more. When I abruptly left Alaska in 1988 these foundations in frontier living had prepared me for new fields of explorative activity.
Copyright William R. Eubank, December, 17, 1995
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